by Michael Quinn Sullivan
Playing their part in establishment’s game to use state government as a vehicle for political retribution, the Texas Ethics Commission issued their maximum fine against me. They did exactly what we said they would do. And now we are going to make the commissioners defend themselves and their policies in court.
The real fight over attempts by incumbent politicians to limit First Amendment rights is about to begin.
By way of background, two left-leaning GOP cronies of liberal House Speaker Joe Straus filed complaints against me, and against Empower Texans/Texans for Fiscal Responsibility as an organization. (The complaints against EmTx/TFR, where Midlander Tim Dunn serves as the chairman of the board, are still pending.)
Straus and his cronies are frustrated by conservative groups like ours that educate and inform Texans about what lawmakers are doing in Austin. They want us to shut up and go away.
The appointed commissioners leading the TEC hoped a $10,000 fine would do it. Not a chance. Instead we are only going to be speaking louder. Much louder. And an agency that has a practice of hiding from the sunlight is about to get a lot more exposure.
The essence of their ruling is this: if you talk about lawmakers, rate them or along the way criticize the speaker of the House, the TEC will come after you. That was the point of the hearing last month and the ruling finally issued this last week.
Along the way, we learned the complaints were put together by a lobbyist for the Texas Trial Lawyers Association and a liberal political consultant, both friendly with Speaker Straus. (That particular detail was something the commission staff and Straus cronies hid from us for more than a year.)
The ruling itself falls right in line with a pattern of unethical behavior we have seen played out over and over again at the Texas Ethics Commission. Earlier this year the TEC staff said in a public hearing that constitutional arguments don’t apply at the TEC. Apparently, neither does state law.
This ruling came down without commissioners voting, as is required by law. It was issued without commissioners deliberating in public, which is also required by law. And it was listed as a “unanimous” decision despite the fact that one commissioner wasn’t even present for our formal hearing last month and therefore is not supposed to have a vote. But then, Commissioner Chase Untermeyer is an appointee of Speaker Straus.
The TEC ruling is based on discredited witnesses and hearsay. Much of what the ruling describes as “facts” are baseless allegations unsupported even by any testimony or evidence. It was written as a political vendetta document, not a serious exercise in law.
Fortunately for Texans, the commissioners don’t get the last word.
A federal judge has already told the TEC that its subpoenas in my case were “absurd” — so just think what a court might say about their latest abuses.
We will be filing a “de novo” appeal as allowed by law. Simply filing the appeal itself vacates, or makes ineffective, the TEC ruling. That’s a right which serves as a check on the agency being used to attack political opponents. It’s also a right that the chairman and vice chairman of the commission, Houstonians Jim Clancy and Paul Hobby, have asked the legislature to eliminate.
Much like Lois Lerner at the IRS, Clancy and Hobby would use their bureaucracy to undermine our basic constitutional rights. Through my case, by proposed regulations, in legislative testimony, and public comments, Jim Clancy and Paul Hobby have committed the TEC to becoming a government censor, limiting public debate and silencing dissent. They are cheered on by Austin’s mercenary lobbyist corps, which despises citizens who engage in policymaking. The effort to regulate political speech is driven by big-spending cronies who are afraid lawmakers might end up listening to voters.
As I told the hosts of the Dallas NBC station’s political program last week, I look forward to watching the TEC commissioners explain themselves in court, under oath, in front of a real judge with real rules.
One last point. I was offered the opportunity last fall to pay a $500-per-complaint “make-it-go-away” bribe by commissioners because they didn’t want to be seen in public. I said “nuts” to that. And I say the same to this political maneuver disguised as a ruling.
Texans’ constitutional rights are too important, too precious, to give up without a fight.